The property beside the SunTrust building on the 700 block of Market Street has been empty so long, it’s seemed as though it’s never had any other purpose. Surrounded by the graffiti-covered walls and aging brick of other buildings, it’s stood as a remnant of a Chattanooga that no longer exists – a city with no vibrancy or growth in its stagnant bones. Now, with Atlanta-based Simpson Organization building a $28 million mixed-use residential and commercial development there, it stands as a symbol of the progress the city has made not only since the early ‘90s but also in recent years as investors have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Chattanooga.
Details emerged as a larger-than-expected crowd gathered on gravelly ground Tuesday, Dec. 15 and listened to a pair of mayors speak as part of a groundbreaking ceremony for the ten-story building. Temporarily known as “728 Market,” the development will be one of the largest to occur downtown in recent history, with 125 apartments, parking, 21,000 square feet of retail space, and 21,000 square feet of commercial space.
City of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke didn’t just speak about a building being raised, though; he also spoke of a city reborn. “Great cities have a vibrant downtown – a place where people can live and shop and eat and walk around,” he said. “Within the next 24 to 36 months, we’re going to see a different Chattanooga – one that draws people downtown, offers affordable living and places for entrepreneurs to work, and has a work force driving the economy.”
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger spoke about the importance of an economically healthy downtown to the entire county. “People have been talking about the money we spend and the agreements we reach to make projects like this happen, and they often ask why those things are important,” he said. “It’s important to all 576 square miles of this county that we have a vibrant downtown.”
Kim White, CEO of River City Company, a non-profit that works with local government, the private sector, and philanthropic entities to stimulate local growth, spoke about how 728 Market serves as an example of how difficult downtown development is. “To have a successful project, you need three things: the right project, the right timing, and the right partner,” she said. “This project is a home run on all three fronts.”
White was referring to the Simpson Organization, a full service real estate investment company that has completed over $4 billion in commercial real estate transactions. As owners of the SunTrust building, which towered over the groundbreaking ceremony, the Simpson Group already has a stake in the city. But with their investment in 728 Market, they are helping Chattanooga to address a number of issues, such as the need for urban living spaces.
“There’s never been a better time for downtown housing. We have a critical need for it,” White said.
Boyd Simpson, chief executive of the Simpson Organization, said he’s looking forward to watching the building dramatically change Market Street. “This project will bring to life a block that’s been a little tired and bleak,” he said. “I want to thank Kim and River City for their relentless pursuit of the right thing for this property over a long period of time.”
Next, Simpson, White, and a host of city and county officials put shovels in previously loosened ground and lifted the first soil to be moved as construction on the project gets underway.
“Getting to this point has taken 15 years of continuous effort by all kinds of good folks in Chattanooga,” Simpson said. “It’s a real pleasure and an honor to be a part of it.”
To see more photos, pick up a copy of this week's Hamilton County Herald.